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80 migrants found in North Macedonia; 1 arrested

Police in central North Macedonia found 80 migrants during a routine search and arrested a truck driver for alleged human trafficking, authorities said Sunday.

The 79 Pakistanis and one Eritrean were found in the truck on Saturday about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Skopje, the capital, police added in a statement.

The truck driver, a 20-year-old Norman identified only by his initials, AF, was arrested while trying to flee. If convicted, he could spend up to five years in prison.

The migrants were taken to a shelter in Gevgelija, a town on the southern border, awaiting deportation to Greece.

In two separate operations on Friday, police said they found a total of 55 migrants, including children, and arrested two men.

Greece’s border with North Macedonia was closed a few months ago due to the coronavirus pandemic. But human smuggling networks are still active, transporting migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then attempting to head north through Serbia to more prosperous countries in the European Union.

Police noted that in July they detained 567 migrants trying to pass through North Macedonia without authorization and have arrested nine suspected smugglers, including three Serbs.